We get the occasional email from readers asking about the cheapest way to get to Gatwick Airport. Learning how to get a discount on the Gatwick Express is totally different to saving money on Heathrow Express. There are no online discount codes or Gatwick Express promotional codes to share. What you do have are a variety of alternative train options to Gatwick, potentially saving over 50%.
When I was living near Clapham Junction, Gatwick was my favourite airport to fly from. There are several trains an hour from Clapham Junction straight to Gatwick’s South Terminal and using your Oyster card, or a contactless credit or debit card, you can just rock up at the station and go straight to the platform.
If you want to save a bit of time and are close to Victoria the Gatwick Express or Southern services are an alternative. You can also take the Thameslink from stations such as – Thameslink expansion construction permitting – West Hampstead, Kings Cross, Farringdon and Blackfriars.
So what’s the best option?
For readers not familiar with Gatwick, you need to understand the difference between the Heathrow and Gatwick Express services. The Heathrow Express runs, for the last part of its journey, on a dedicated piece of track paid for by Heathrow Airport itself. Only Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services use this track, and the airport is free to charge what it likes to use it.
Gatwick Airport, on the other hand, sits on the normal rail line from London into Brighton. The Gatwick Express is only one of several train services to use the station. Whilst the most expensive, it is only marginally the fastest and – for many people – its terminus at Victoria may not even be very convenient.
The station at Gatwick is based in the South Terminal, now home to British Airways. If you are going to or from the North Terminal, mainly used by easyJet, you need to change for the 3-minute ride on the transit train.
Here is a comparison of the different train companies using Gatwick. Frequencies are based on Monday to Friday services.
Note that children under 5 do not require a ticket on any UK train service.
- Trains terminate at Victoria
- Four trains per hour
- Typical journey time 30 minutes
- One-way ticket £19.90 (10% cheaper online at £17.80, not-same-day return £35.50 or £31.60 online)
- The First Class Anytime Return ticket, which is very expensive on paper at £57.50, comes with a good perk – access to the No 1 Lounges at Gatwick North and Gatwick South
- If you use your Oyster card on Gatwick Express you will be charged the standard one-way fare
There are good group and family discounts:
- If two people travel together, they can buy 2 x return tickets for £45.50 online, ie £22.75 each via Web Duo – see here for details
- A group of 6 can travel from £11.70 each (based on an Anytime Single)
- A group of 4 can travel from £20.85 each (based on an Anytime Return)
- First Class group offers and ’10 for 8′ tickets are also available – see here for prices
First Class offers little additional benefit, based on Rob’s experiences (I’ve never tried it). This is because:
- the trains rarely have inspectors and First Class is often used by passengers without relevant tickets
- on some trains, you do not actually know you are in First Class – the only sign is a logo on the headrest – because the seating is identical
- some trains are very, very empty
The bottom line, though, is that the key to saving money on the Gatwick Express is to not take the Gatwick Express! Train tickets on other routes are available for as little as £8.10 per person each-way as we will see. For a larger group, the premium for the Gatwick Express is less steep if you buy one of the ‘group save’ tickets above.
- Trains terminate at Victoria (slower trains also depart London Bridge, taking 50 minutes)
- Four to five trains per hour
- Typical journey time 31-38 minutes
- One-way ticket £15.70 from Victoria (but using Oyster or a contactless payment card it is only £8.10 off-peak / £14.20 peak – this price is not available with a paper ticket)
- Group Save offers a 34% discount when 3-9 adults are travelling together with kids travelling for £2 each
- If you want to commit in advance to a specific train, tickets can be pre-booked online for £12 each way. But unless you don’t have an Oyster or contactless payment card (and it’s worth getting one simply to use the train to Gatwick) I wouldn’t bother pre-booking a train as you would need to buy a new ticket if you missed your train.
As far as Oyster pricing is concerned, peak hours are Monday to Friday from 06.30 to 09.30 and from 16.00 to 19.00.
In theory, Southern sell a handful of £5 Advanced Purchase one-way tickets to Gatwick on each train. These are difficult to get, however – they tend to appear at random 4-6 weeks before travel even though they are meant to be available 12 weeks in advance. It is worth checking for these but prepare to be disappointed.
- Trains pass through London, stopping at London Bridge (but most services are suspended until January 2018 due to rebuilding), Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon and St Pancras International
- Four trains per hour
- Typical journey time 28 minutes from London Bridge to Gatwick Airport
- One-way ticket £9.50 to/from London Bridge (Oyster or contactless payment card fare £8.10 off-peak / £14.20 peak)
- Group Save options are discussed here
The majority of Thameslink services to Gatwick are now operated by the new 700 series trains. These are air-conditioned and have more luggage space. The picture below is of a standard class carriage – First Class is also 2×2 seating but has tables and power sockets. One First Class carriage is often declassified and standard class passengers can use it.
For all of these services, it may make sense to buy a Network Railcard if you will be taking a number of National Rail trips. The card costs £30, is valid for a year, and offers 1/3 off for up to four adults and 60% off for up to four children (if travelling together). The only restriction is that it cannot be used before 10am Monday to Friday.
With Oyster and contactless cards being accepted on Southern Railway as well as the Thameslink all the way to Gatwick, I can’t find a reason why you should pay for a paper ticket unless you have a Railcard.
So, as you can, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives to the Gatwick Express available and the ‘Oyster or contactless credit or debit card’ fare is the overall winner. (Although, if you are travelling in a group, the Group Save Gatwick Express tickets are decent value.)
Historically, Gatwick Express trains had improved luggage space and marginally better seating than most trains. These days, you will often find a regular commuter train running the service so these benefits will not necessarily materialise. More importantly, at peak hours Gatwick Express trains often run to and from Brighton. This means that there will not be a train waiting at the Gatwick platform to board immediately and it may be full when it arrives at Gatwick.
It is important to note that the ticket machines at the airport station are owned by Gatwick Express. They are therefore programmed to prioritise Gatwick Express tickets, and you may need to work through a number of screens to find tickets from Southern or Thameslink. You don’t need to worry about the ticket machines if using Oyster or a contactless payment card of course – just touch in at the gate.
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